Are Irish people really as nice as tourists say we are? We’re friendly and considerate, and we “go out of our way” to be helpful. But maybe not so much when it comes to restaurants.
The level of no-shows at restaurants around the country has become a huge problem, to the point where many restaurateurs are quite rightly looking to flatten that curve by taking credit card details at booking, and charging a fee for no-shows or short-notice cancellations.
Figuring that making a dinner booking in a restaurant is quite similar to booking a ticket for a concert or festival, Andy Noonan, the chef and pitmaster behind Fowl Play restaurant and The Big Grill Festival, recently launched Baste BBQ, a pop-up barbecue in a site awaiting development on Dublin's Clanbrassil Street, as a ticketed event. People paid €200 in advance for a generous barbecue feast for four people.
Since I visited, this has changed. Noonan has reduced the amount you pay in advance and the overall cost. You now pay a deposit of €10 per person, and an additional €30 per person for the barbecue on the evening. It seems that we are prepared to pay a bit to reserve in advance, but not the whole whack.
Baste is outdoors, which is good if you’re concerned about eating in an enclosed space, but not so good if you don’t have a Child of Prague to hand. The advice you get with the confirmation of your booking is to think more festival than restaurant. With bright colours, bunting, great music, and 15 tables with bench seating, all of which are made from pallets, there is a party atmosphere. And the tables have umbrellas, if you need shade or shelter.
The focal point is the food truck, set up with a serious custom-built barbecue kit, including two wood-burning parrillas from Argentina, and a wood and charcoal-fired smoker made by Pitmaker in Houston, Texas.
We start with grilled flatbreads with coal-roasted smoky babaganoush and a deliciously fresh tzatziki. These are followed by the “snack”, a cardboard tray loaded with free-range chicken wings, smoked with cherry wood and whiskey-barrel oak, and finished on the grill. They are served Thai style, with a dipping sauce that balances sour, salty, sweet and spicy flavours, with plenty of chillies, coriander and the savoury hum of nam pla.
As it's BYOB, I have come armed with two interesting bottles recommended by Green Man Wines in Terenure. The lightly sparkling Uivo Pét-Nat Rosé (€23) is a great match for these two courses, and a chilled Lapierre Raisins Gaulois (€20), a juicy red from one of Beaujolais's top producers, works well with the robust flavours of the barbecued meat that follows.
The main course arrives like a giant present in a large cardboard box. There are four substantial sides – preserved lemon couscous with raisins and almonds; purple potato salad; sweet and spicy slaw, and butterbeans with an heirloom tomato, ricotta and pickled courgette salad.
There are also cucumber pickles, sauerkraut, and pickled red onions, and three different sauces: a house barbecue sauce, an earthy, herbaceous chimichurri, and a tangy Alabama white barbecue sauce that is so good on pork and chicken.
There are six meats in the main, all cooked in different ways. The free-range pork shoulder is North Carolina style, with a light touch of vinegar to balance the richness of long, slow cooking over wood. The coarse ground Gaucho sausage is meaty, seasoned with white wine and pepper, and grilled Argentinian style.
Peter Hannan’s sugar-pit-cured shorthorn beef rib is incredibly good. With a deeply charred exterior, the meat inside is deep red with a succulent, brined smokiness, like a barbecue version of the best Jewish brisket you’ll get in the US.
Also included is cherry-wood-smoked, free-range chicken, Tamworth pork belly, and grilled lamb sweetbreads. Dessert is simple, an ice-cream cannoli from Arctic Stone.
This summer, all of our festivals, including The Big Grill, have been cancelled, but you can still get a taste of that energy at Baste BBQ. This is not the sort of barbecue that you do outside in your back garden. It is seriously skilled cooking. Noonan plans to stay in the current location until Christmas, and then move to a permanent, licensed premises. Last Saturday, Lil Portie did a pop-up there with Caribbean barbecue, and similar events are planned. This is a great evening out and, better still, you'll be eating the best barbecue in the country.
Dinner for four was €200 (now reduced to €160), with our two bottles of BYOB wine an additional €43.
Verdict: Seriously good barbecue
Facilities: One adequate unisex toilet
Music: Really good '70s funk
Food provenance: Irish free-range, higher-welfare and rare breed meats
Wheelchair access: Area is accessible but with no accessible toilet
Vegetarian options: Vegetarian buns, a vegetarian/vegan menu is planned